Bruce Rankin and James Quane “Neighborhood Poverty and the Social Isolation of Inner-City African American Families”

Previous research posits there are structural reasons that perpetuate the poverty found in the urban ghetto. William Julius Wilson posits that isolation from mainstream social institutions, such as employment, businesses, churches, and schools, exacerbates already existing social disorganization already present in poor urban areas, leading to reduced life chances for its residents. However, critics have asserted that previous studies rely on socioeconomic data from Census reports rather than investigating the condition of social network ties or level of community involvement. Subsequent sociological research, although limited, attempted to measure the extent that neighborhood ecology affects social isolation. This research found that neighborhoods have limited effect on the levels of social isolation.

Bruce Rankin and James Quane test prior hypotheses on the factors that create and sustain social isolation prevalent in poor neighborhoods. Rather than using data from only poor census tracts, as the previous researchers did, Rankin and Quane use sample areas with greater variability in rates of poverty. They also analyze data regarding length of time residents have lived in the areas under review, a variable not considered in past studies. Improving on past research, Rankin and Quane set out to test the network composition and organization participation as a means to explain levels of social isolation.

Because of the high rates of female headed households, in inner-city neighborhoods, Rankin and Quane investigated network composition and organization participation of mothers in the selected neighborhoods. Measures of network composition included employment status, education levels and status of receiving public assistance of friends. Levels of participation in community organizations were measured through number of times they participated in various community organizations, including block clubs and, neighborhood/tenant groups.

I found their results interesting and unexpected. Although not statistically significant, this study found that whether from high, moderate or low poverty neighborhoods, levels of adult participation in community related activities was comparable in each area. Alternatively, levels of family participation in organizations was highest in neighborhoods with the highest levels of poverty as compared to areas with moderate to low levels of poverty. Rankin and Quane explain this unexpected finding in terms of “community of limited liability”, which essentially means that in order to mediate the high levels of disorder, residents work harder at proactively protecting the community by being involved. Similar to to Sudhir Venkatesh’s account of the way residents of Robert Taylor Homes organized to protect their community from deleterious effects of the very poor public housing.

One thought on “Bruce Rankin and James Quane “Neighborhood Poverty and the Social Isolation of Inner-City African American Families”

  • November 8, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    I found this article very insightful as it calls into question some of the stereotypes that many Americans may believe when it comes to poor communities. As the authors found in their data, those living in the poorest areas were actively engaged in community organizations in an effort to improve their community opportunities, facilities, networks, etc.

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